We are living through extraordinary times. After 18 months of uncertainty in the COVID landscape, we are again dealing with circumstances on a daily basis that are under constant review and subject to change. The character of this time of year is very different to what it was in 2020: at the same time last year, we were coming out of the lockdown, whereas now we are currently in the grip of it. There are added complications – in a strange way the circumstances of 2020 were entirely novel, and the online learning environment was untested provoking a sense of curiosity if not anticipation.
This time around we know fully what it entails, and while it is effective and will maintain the continuities of teaching and learning, it is not the same thing as the personal relationship that characterises education daily. It is also much later in the year: on May 11th last year the boys began to return to school after the interregnum of the Virtual Timetable Mode (VTM), whereas this year it has just begun. And in looking at the status of community transmissions over the past week, it is likely to be some time before the full cascade back to face-to-face teaching occurs. Perhaps most instructive, is the fact that the Delta strain is a different entity, with a much higher transmissible infection rate and a greater impact on those who are younger. Indeed, these are times of much uncertainty as we face a new term that holds its unique share of challenges and no doubt with it, rewards.
I realise that much information has been disseminated over the last week. Essentially, there needs to be. We are in for a longer haul than was original anticipated in the virtual environment and we need, as a school and as families, to be prepared for it. There is little use in lamenting what has happened for that is as productive as hoping that school and the educational program will return in totality tomorrow. It won’t. What is important is the capacity to live with uncertainty, to hold the tension and accept ambiguity as we move ahead. While not enjoyable, it is a fact of life, and it is to that we need to respond on a multitude of levels.
First and foremost, I wish to thank the many staff who dropped everything over the break to put in place the arrangements that saw Term 3 up and running in the best possible way. There are too many to list but in the spirit of Ignatian gratitude, we had the support of many who had an online platform ready to go, curriculum provision ready for delivery, IT systems in place, communications prepared, and the list goes on. To maximise efficacy, we reviewed the lessons of 2020 – the survey and feedback provided by students, parents and staff – to inform how best to move into this space as Term 3 begins. We expected there would be a process of ‘acclimatisation’ to the online regime and will continue to look for feedback to best respond to needs as they are understood at the time.
While there is much uncertainty in the city of Sydney, there is certainty in the hope and care we wish to give to the young men entrusted to our care. I am aware that there will be more nervousness associated with the boys in Year 12, particularly regarding Major Works (like that pictured left) and Trial Examinations over the weeks ahead. At the same time last year, having lost weeks on the virtual timetable, those same concerns existed. However, a belief in the systems that have been put into place, a determined desire to commit to the learning and assessment program, and a collective resolve to make the most of what was on offer, saw the graduates of 2020 achieve some of the highest results the College has seen in its history. Amid the uncertainty of the time, dedication, perseverance and assiduity came through. That is what we need to focus on at the present time.
I am acutely aware that there is also considerable doubt about whether several community events that were otherwise calendared for the early weeks of the term can proceed. These events – House Masses, student forums, Leadership Programs, not to mention the significance of St Ignatius’ Day in the 500th year that saw the Founder’s injury move into a direction that would see the establishment of schools throughout the world. There is much to assess over the coming days and weeks, in an environment where definite expectations are rendered impossible by the impact of COVID.
That accepted, the lesson of Week 1 is that the boys have responded with much resolve, commitment and dedication to their learning. Next week the breadth of the educational program will be expanded via the online platform to include parent webinars, pastoral care and House activities, and even some co-curricular activities that lend themselves to the online environment. Details of these will be separately conveyed in correspondence distributed throughout the week.
In between, let us give thanks for the graces of family life, the available opportunities and the mutual support of a community that commits to the education, welfare and faith development of young men.